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LGBT Prisoners – The LGBT Community’s Forgotten Population by Josh Puckett

In many major cities, violence against the LGBT community is on the rise, according to a recent report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a group that supports victims of anti-LGBT harassment. Equally disturbing is the sense that police indifference is also on the rise.

But let’s consider this in a different perspective. Close your eyes, open your mind, and imagine a reality so different from your daily life that you may not believe people are living like this. Imagine if any of the homophobic, assaultive individuals counted in the NCAVP report was your next door neighbor or roommate. What if you were trapped in 8 8′ x 11′ room 24/7 with that hate-filled person, with no way out? Now think about how it would feel if those homophobic DC cops who were annoyed to even be taking a report of violence by 2 men on 5 lesbian women http://www.bilerico.com/2011/08/lesbians_attacked_in_dc_police_do_nothing.php lived in your building and were responsible for your safety. How protected would you feel in those circumstances? What if – on top of all that – your daily living environment was populated by people who want to rape you, steal from you and/or simply do you harm because you’re gay? How would you survive, knowing the officers charged with keeping order in your world were just as hate-filled as those wanting to do you harm or at the least completely indifferent to your plight? What if you do dare to report victimization – knowing you will be considered a “rat” or “snitch” and marked far further victimization? How would you feel???

This is the reality for thousands of inmates in America’s prisons on a daily basis.

Sure, you might say: “They did the crime, so they can do the time.” But the reality is that the victimization and alienation that the LGBT community faces behind bars is more akin to doing prison time in a Third World country – nothing like what you expect from American.  The reality is that the U.S. prison system – including the guards – are decades behind America outside prison walls in 2011. Even race relations are closer to the 1950’s than what you might expect today.

I believe this comes from a lack of intelligent dialogue by advocates for LGBT equality, safety and non-discrimination with prison officials and corrections administrators. It is time for the LGBT community to step up and start supporting the forgotten segment of our LGBT population – our imprisoned brothers and sisters.

In Michigan, where I am now, just under one quarter of Michigan’s inmates identify as LGBT. But there are no support groups, no re-entry programs geared towards LGBT inmates, and not one single LGBT education program to provide anti-bullying training to staff or inmates. This sad fact is why we recently formed PAGLE – Prisoners Advocating for Gay & Lesbian Equality – to begin to shed light on the predicament of the LGBT community behind bars. PAGLE intends to provide a voice for the voiceless and create programs that will help LGBT inmates successfully re-enter society to help them become productive members of our community.  Our first goal is to compile a county-by-county LGBT-friendly resource and have the Department of Corrections make it available to inmates upon request. Secondly, we would like to have the Affirmations Crisis Hotline added to the universal phone pin list so inmates who are feeling suicidal have some way to reach out for help to a safe person. These are just some of our short-term goals.

PAGLE does not advocate for predators or violent criminals. The fact is that most LGBT offenders are serving time for drug-related, non-violent offenses and will re-enter society after their incarceration without having gained any skills or trades that could potentially keep them from returning to prison. The truth is that many LGBT offenders do return to a cold antigay reality, without family support, and end up with deep psychological scars from the torment they were subjected to while in prison.

We must not forget that everyone is entitled to equality – even those who have made mistakes in their lives. A little compassion and kindness can actually go a long way for those behind bars. The LGBT community behind bars has the highest rate of suicide, as well as rape, of all the demographics represented in America’s prisons. It is time for the LGBT community to step up and lend their voices to the plight of this lost segment of our community.

Why should you support something created by inmates? PAGLE was started by two guys in prison, funded by prison paychecks of $1 dollar a day and friends who donated their time to a cause that does not affect them. The need for change is real and we believe that a difference can be made with very little funding, as long as we can get compassionate and intelligent people to donate their time and wisdom to PAGLE’s cause.

For the past 10 months, we have worked to get a Facebook page up and reach out to groups to sponsor &/or help us get the word out. We have collected answers from a questionnaire given LGBT inmates to collect data to better understand the unique needs of Michigan’s LGBT inmates. We also developed a flyer and pamphlet to help spread the word.

But our biggest obstacle is the fact that many people in the LGBT community really do not went to talk about prisons, rape or anything to do with incarceration. Some people feel that prisoners, gay or straight, deserve whatever befalls them behind bars because they betrayed society’s trust by committing crimes. I somewhat agree. As someone who has been here for over 15 years, I know that most of the individuals here are quite vile, and some down right evil. I would even agree that many are even beyond correction. Yet some people here simply made mistakes or had drug problems.

The LGBT community behind bars is very different from the average inmate. Most are far more vulnerable and passive than the average predatory inmate. Trust me on this one.

But for a long time now, I’ve strived to better myself in this hate-filled hell where I was sentenced to die many years ago. It took me many years to begin to stand up for those in need and now I am a strong, positive, and outspoken voice in a cacophony of negativity.

If you want to know why I care so much – it’s because I was raised by a loving, kind, and compassionate gay community. As the son of a gay man and 2 lesbian mothers, the early Detroit community was a great home until I lost my father to A.I.D.S and then just months later, I lost my mothers to a hate crime. Within a few years I was in prison for the rest of my life because I allowed my anger to consume me. My pain lead me to make poor choices that passed the same pain I felt on to another family. Now years later, I never want anyone to feel how alone and hurt as I once did. I am strong within myself now and even in this dark place, I am willing to take a risk to attempt to do something to stem the rising tide of hate and discrimination.

I hope this story will motivate a wonderful, vibrant and diverse community to join my fight for equality. No matter where a person lays their head – be it behind these walls or in the streets – everyone deserves humane treatment. No one deserves daily torment or needs to feel like death is the only option out of the pain.

PAGLE needs your help in spreading the word and forming its first executive board of directors. If you’re interested, please contact us at pagleorg@yahoo.com and check us out on Facebook. If you want to knew more about what the LGBT community goes through behind bars, email your questions to us and we will write more on what ever topics you want to hear about. I will do my best to respond to any topic people went to hear about.

 

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